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  About Stereopal.com 

 

 

Stereopal.com is my personal audiophile blog, documenting my journey as a music lover and an audiophile. 

 

I have been an audiophile and music lover since 1982.  While little boys were playing with their Apple II computers or roaming in the fields, I spent most of my time fiddling with Tube amplifiers and JBL speakers.    Fortunately, my family has two generation of audiophiles which precedes me, allowing me a good excuse to pursue the hobby.

 

I love music, audio, toobs or tubes, fine wine, audio, McIntosh, music and audio, and back to audio once more.    Music and Audio has been a life long passion for me. These things have been stuck with me since I was 12, but frankly I enjoy being attached to them.  

 

Contrary to popular belief, Audio is not a seclusive hobby.   Ever since I have started by blog, I have been invited into the homes of many Audiophiles.   I have met more new friends through music and audio than anything else.   God bless those with a social life which is not about money or financial gain, and one which is encapsulated with nothing other than his passions.    

 

I enjoy people, fine wine, music, but most of all great friendships.   My goal in life is all about people and relationships, and how pitiful are those without true friends in life.     I enjoy the social aspects of this hobby, and I try to avoid the business politics which sometimes plagues this hobby.    One peer group against another, one reviewer bashing another, stores fighting for customers, who cares............ I all care about is meeting great friends and great people.

 

My website is more about pictures as I usually do not have much to say, but a picture speaks a thousand words.

 

I am an active member of a few audiophile groups.    The first is my own Stereopal.com audiophile group, which meets casually on an informal basis within the Greater Toronto area.      The second is the Audiophile Club of Athens.

 

I am also heavily involved with the Great Toronto Area Audio Club (GTAA), where I am a founding member.   The GTAA is likely one of the most active audiophile group in Canada with over >2000 forum postings a month, and bi-monthly informal hostings.   Every year, we have about 50 events.

 

With an open mind, and a humble attitude, I'll share my experiences and opinions with you throughout these pages.  However, they represent my personal opinions which may very well be different than yours.   

 

 

A few words on the Audiophile journey

 

What is this hobby all about ?  Audiophiles have often been incorrectly portrayed as crazy people who sit around wasting time comparing differences between two expensive cables.   The word "Audiophile" gives the impression that they are people who care more about the equipment than the music.  I once sat down with an individual during dinner, without even knowing who I am or what I do, he immediately gave the comment that "I can't stand you guys, you audiophiles are label chasers who care about the record label than the recording".   But there are two sides to every coin, those who advocate that music comes first and audio second, loves to believe they have somehow attained a higher level of wisdom and therefore higher up in the hierarchy.

 

Surely audiophiles come in all shapes and sizes, but who I am to pass judgment, criticize, or worse to define another person's audio journey.   I believe both camps have missed the point. At the end it is neither about music or the equipment.  It is about people.    I love to befriend them all because Music has that powerful ability to unite differences, and propels us to become better human beings.

 

As an audiophile, Audio and music is to me not the ultimate goal. People is the ultimate goal. "People must come before the music".    The attitude of the listener in relation to people comes ahead of the sound of a system.   Whatever theory or presumptions on how to improve the sound, if they end up dividing people, that to me is Poison.

 

Music is an expression of my inner emotions, it is the melody of my heart, it quickens my conscience as a person, and opens my heart to God.  The equipment is a tool which brings out these powerful emotions, and the music an expression of love which motivates my heart to love our fellow man. 

 

When music brings people together, and people become friends, that to me is the ultimate goal of an audiophile.    This does not mean I have to be mediocre when it comes to my pursuit of high fidelity.  When friends get along, the combined knowledge of a group of people will open doors to better methods, better skills, but most importantly, better relationships.

 

 

The Music & The Sound:   My Take On a Controversial Subject  Ή 

 

What makes a great system?   Do we judge a system by its price tag?   Do we say it is good when some Zen Master says so?  Do we go by general consensus? Whose point of reference do we use to make a judgment?

 

One of the greatest myths among audiophiles is that a system is good if you like it.    Liking the sound of a system is a subjective matter.   It has nothing to do with whether the system is good, but to do with an individual's personal taste.

 

Judging an audio system requires two assessment:   The Subjective, and the Objective.     In this it is like literature;  You may not like reading Shakespeare but you would probably agree that Shakespeare was a great writer nonetheless.

 

Most audiophiles begin with a simple audio system, and with time and patience, he gains experience and develops a preference towards music and audio.  Getting to the point where a person is knowledgeable enough to have both a subjective and an objective opinion of a good system is one of the most rewarding experience in our journey.  It allows one to separate his subjective preference from the objective.     It is entirely possible to love the sound of, say, Single Ended amplified systems, but at the same time know it is not the objective ‘ultimate’ because of the high levels of distortion and coloration associated with it.

Each of us has a subjective opinion.  Having a valid objective opinion, however, requires experiencing a particular sound and understanding how it classically presents itself.    Achieving this level of discernment is possible only if an individual expands his sphere of preference beyond the type of sounds which he already knows he likes. It is only by listening to a great number of systems that are unfamiliar to a person and listening to them in a focused way (with an open mind) that he vaults his knowledge into a higher realm.

If a person focuses solely on what he likes and makes judgment from a purely subjective point of view it will lead to narrow mindedness and arrogance. Over time, the individual will begin to think that a good system is supposed to sound a particular way. When someone then invites him to an audiophile event he will be tempted to criticize and ridicule, rather than to respect others’ opinions and to enjoy the moment.   

Scientist call this phenomenon "frame error" -- coming to a wrong assessment because the entity was evaluated in an inappropriate or jaded context. 
 

The goal is to consciously try to avoid superimposing your ideas of what a system is supposed to sound like, and instead to maintain an attitude of open mindedness.     Only over time can an audiophile sense what to look for in a particular system and evaluate it in its correct context.   Live music, is appreciated in the same manner.

 

 

Criteria for Evaluation

 

While everyone may have a different set of criteria for evaluation, I would like to share with you my own criteria.

 

1) The Right Attitude

 

The first and foremost criteria is to have the right attitude.   While it is easy for us to criticize another person's system, harsh comments are neither beneficial or constructive.     As the old Indian proverb goes: "Do not cut off a person's nose if you plan to give him a rose to smell".    If you plan to give somebody a suggestion, make sure you do it in a nice manner.  

 

Very often, negative criticism often tells me more about the individual making the comment than the audio system.     I have been into the homes of hundreds of individuals, and have come to the conclusion that there is something special about every system which can be appreciated upon.    To begin a proper evaluation, one must begin by picking out the positives rather than the negatives.   This attitude of appreciation permits the individual to maintain an open mind and a proper frame of reference.  

 

There are individuals who out of inferiority issues, pretend to be the "Si Fu" or "Grand Master" as in Asian Kung Fu movies.   They go around to people's houses criticizing people's system and infusing an unhealthy atmosphere of mutual envy and hierarchy.     I have seen magazine reviewers, dealers as well as some audiophile peer groups who behave like this.   These people do more harm than good to the audiophile community.

 

The continuous endless debates between Tubes vs Solid states, Vinyl vs Digital, Singled Ended vs Push Pull, US vs British Pressings, they are constructive so long as our motive is not to ridicule the other.   

 

Those who are quick to criticize will very quickly turn themselves into a monk within the audiophile community.

 

2) Tonal Balance

Does the system have the ability to present the full frequency spectrum of a particular recording? Are there "gaps" in certain frequencies? Do the frequencies cohere?  A system may have the ability to present certain frequencies which are particularly pleasing to the ear, say on a single female vocal.  But if judgment is to be objectively made on tonal balance, the entire spectrum must be evaluated.

As stated earlier, some may have strong preference for Solid State equipment, focusing only on quality of the bass response, while others may be concentration on the seductiveness of single female vocals.   The entire frequency spectrum together with its coherence must be taken into account rather the performance of a narrow frequency range.

 

3) Room Interaction and Sound Staging

A system can have the right tonal balance, but negative room interactions. So one must ask, how does the system interact with the room settings?  Does the room create unnecessary bass ‘boom’?  Does the room echo?

Room acoustics and the physical size of the room are the two most important contributing factors when it comes to sound staging.   Having a decent sized dedicated audio room with correct room acoustics, is something which very few people are privileged to have.  Therefore, a system must be evaluated within the context of its room limitations.    

A system can have the right tonality and room acoustics, but the sound staging can be incorrect. This leads us to ask whether the system shows the ability to present instruments the way the recording engineer intended?  Is the sound stage presented too low, like listening from a balcony?  Is the sound stage too high?  Is there good depth perception?  Do the instruments separate themselves, or are they all crumbled up together?

There are a number of system which I know for certain that would sound much better if the room was another 200 sq. ft bigger.   I for one wanted an extra 10 ft of space behind my speakers, but I already know this would be impossible.   But if I was to criticize on the soundstage knowing the inherent physical limitations, such comments would not be beneficial to the owner of the system.

 

4) Aesthetic Qualities, and Attitude of the Host

 

If a system sounds good, does it look good aesthetically ?    I have been into rooms with great sounding systems, but with poor aesthetic qualities which leave much to be desired.     Some rooms have dirty clothing scattered all over the floor, others resemble the aftermath of an earthquake scene.   Such environments are uninviting and diminishes on the whole experience.

 

On the flip side of the coin, some audio rooms are like museums with the host playing the role of a security guard.  I have been into the home of an individual who has rules on how a person should sit.  Guest are also not permitted to choose what music to play.

 

Then there are those who like to role play the Hitler or the Mussolini of the community.  They believe they are the absolute final authority on the subject  and do not respect or permit any opposing viewpoints, yet they will criticize every audio system which they come across with their narrow minded measuring sticks.    "Your high frequencies are off by 15%, your bass response is exceeded by 3 db at 124hz.   Your soundstage is too narrow, your hair is too long, your butt is too big.............

 

The aesthetic presentation of the system, the comfort level of the listening environment, together with the welcoming attitude of the host (or the guest) are all part of the whole listening experience.  These are qualities which cannot be ignored, even though they can be difficult to quantify.

 

 

5) Return on Investment

A system must be judged within the context of its cost.  My expectations will naturally be higher for a Two million dollar system, but if a two thousand dollar system can achieve 90% of the sound, proper credit should be given to such a high return on investment.   At the same time, an expensive system should not be ridiculed because of its price tag.    After all, there are pens which cost more than cars in this world, with our hobby, at least it makes sound.

~

While it is important to maintain the objective when it comes to system evaluation, as I meet more and more audiophiles on a personal basis, I have learned to respect the subjective differences between individuals.   Everybody has differences when it comes to musical preference and personal taste.   One man's  rubbish may be another man's gem.   We must respect our differences.  I believe God delights in variety, and this is a principle which humankind must learn to appreciate and respect.  

 

 

To contact me, email:    rick@stereopal.com

 

 

  Ή  My take on the subject is borrowed from Karen's McNeil's book, The Wine Bible.    

 

 

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